JEFF TIEDEMAN: Whirl in the wokAlmost everyone knows that deep-frying is perhaps the unhealthiest way to prepare food. That’s no secret. Stir-frying offers a healthy alternative to cooks.
Almost everyone knows that deep-frying is perhaps the unhealthiest way to prepare food. That’s no secret.
The reason is simple: Most deep-fried foods contain saturated and trans fats, which have been shown to contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And food that is deep-fried also is calorie-laden and is the bane of people who are trying to watch their weight.
The fact is, though, that cooking food using this technique is so palate-pleasing it doesn’t deter a lot of people.
But there are several cooking methods that are naturally low in fat that don’t give up the flavor that people crave and at the same time cut calories. Examples include steaming, broiling, microwaving, pressure cooking, baking, braising, broiling and grilling.
Another is stir-frying. I like this method because it’s quick and isn’t rocket science. All it requires is a large, thick, nonstick frying pan or wok and a wooden spoon. And most of the time, you can make a stir-fried meal with the ingredients you have on hand.
While you can stir-fry just about anything, certain foods that are better suited for it.
The best red meat for stir-frying is flank steak. Flank steak is quite tough, but cutting it across the grain makes it more tender. Some cooks prefer sirloin or skirt steaks, which are used to make Mexican fajitas. Chicken and pork also are a good options.
When it comes to fish, firm-fleshed varieties such as cod or halibut work best because they keeps their shape and do not fall apart.
I like shellfish such as shrimp and scallops, but you must be careful not to overcook them. One method that works well is to leave the shells on shrimp during stir-frying. This traps the flavor and helps keep the meat tender.
When it comes to vegetables, which are high in vitamins and antioxidants, some can be quickly stir-fried at high heat without the addition of extra liquid. These include zucchini, sweet peppers, spinach and bean sprouts.
Denser, low-moisture vegetables such as broccoli and carrots take longer to cook. Blanching beforehand is an option.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
— Cut ingredients into bite-sized pieces.
— Preheat the wok on medium-high to high heat for at least a minute before adding oil. (You may want to skip this step if you have a nonstick pan — it can damage the coating.)
— Add the oil, drizzling it so that it coats both the sides and the bottom of the wok.
— Before adding other ingredients, season oil (up to 2 to 3 tablespoons depending on dish) by cooking a few pieces of garlic and ginger.
— If the recipe calls for meat and vegetables, cook the meat first, then set it aside. Return meat when the veggies are almost cooked. This ensures that meat is not overcooked and that meat and vegetables retain individual flavors.
— Meat is normally stir-fried on high heat to seal in juices. Also, wait a few seconds before tossing so that it has a chance to brown; when stir-frying vegetables, move them immediately.
— Cook only a cup of meat at a time.
— If you’re uncertain about the order in which to stir-fry vegetables, the simplest solution is to stir-fry them separately, one at a time.
For me, springtime is the perfect time to stir-fry. It’s when I go through our freezers in an effort to consolidate their contents in half the space. Often, that requires digging out some food to prepare immediately, such as I did recently with some pheasant breasts, which were combined with a pile of fresh veggies. (See recipe at www.grandforksherald.com/event/ tag/group/ Life/tag/ food/.)
You can’t eat much healthier than that.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.